“That’s a wake-up call.” These words were uttered by the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), after hearing about the numerous animals killed by horrific body-gripping traps. The chairman’s statement came immediately after Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered what Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called a “heart-stopping presentation” on the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act (RFCTA). The RFCTA, with a companion bill introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in the House of Representatives, would prohibit the use of body-gripping traps such as strangulation snares, steel-jaw leghold traps, and Conibear traps within the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The May 6 committee hearing represented the first time in decades that a congressional hearing addressed the use of cruel and indiscriminate body-gripping traps on our nation’s public lands. The RFCTA was the only animal-friendly bill under consideration during the hearing. The eight other bills under discussion were all pointed attacks against the Endangered Species Act.
As Sen. Booker spoke before the committee—its members, congressional staff, and members of the public filling the room—he showed photos of the countless nontarget animals, including endangered and threatened species, that fall victim to these indiscriminate and archaic devices. Even pets are at risk, and during the hearing, Sen. Booker drew special attention to a photo of Bella, a beagle who was killed by a Conibear trap.
The heart-wrenching photo of the dog’s mangled body stayed up for the remainder of the lengthy hearing—a poignant reminder that her death should not be in vain. Sen. Booker asked why such deadly traps need to be set on public lands and highlighted the serious threats that body-gripping traps pose to public safety: “Our wildlife refuges attract more than 47 million visitors a year. Nearly all those visitors, more than 99 percent, are using our refuge system for recreational purposes, not for trapping. Why would those 47 million visitors need to worry about the safety of their pets or even worse, the safety of their children?”
Although the link between cruelty and trapping is hardly new, this marks the first time that federal legislation to prohibit the use of body-gripping traps in national wildlife refuges has been introduced in the US Senate. For decades, AWI has sought to protect animals from steel-jaw leghold traps, strangulation snares, and Conibear traps through regulatory and legislative channels, in addition to educating the public about these indiscriminate and cruel devices. AWI will continue to work closely with Sen. Booker and Rep. Lowey to pass this vital legislation that protects humans and animals alike.
In the 1980s, AWI worked with the New Jersey legislature to pass a comprehensive law prohibiting the use of leghold traps in that state. Since that time, more states have followed New Jersey’s lead in restricting body-gripping traps. It is heartening, therefore, to see Sen. Booker continue to advance his home state’s tradition of protecting animals from these horrific devices.